09th Jun2021

Opinionated: I bought a PC Engine in 2021… Why?

by Chris Thomas

A Playstation 5 (PS5) would set me back about 500 euros (without games). I already have a Playstation 4, an Xbox One X, Switch and an “OK” gaming PC that can just about run Cyberpunk with the settings down low. I do not see the need for me to pick up a PS5, or the new, confusingly titled Xbox for that matter. Blockbuster games have not changed much, as far as I am concerned in the last 10 years. Sure, they are prettier now, but microtransactions, scouring maps, and fetch quests generally offer limited enjoyment after I have played such similar games so many times already. My interest was already seriously on the wane 5 years ago, when I unexpectedly just could not be bothered with Fallout 4 or Mad Max (2015). My playtime for Monster Hunter Rise or Cyberpunk runs at less than 2 hours a piece. Once I realised that Cyberpunk was GTA I basically stopped playing. I used to love Fallout, I used to love GTA, but as the numbers on the titles tick up, the less interested I am in doing the same things over and over.

Perhaps this partly explains why I have gone back in time. For the last 5 years I have played less and less video games and more and more tabletop games (I have reviewed some of my favourites for this very site). It is sort of an exercise in nostalgia, but also kind of not at all. When I was about 11, I have a handful of different Games Workshop models: a few orcs, a few space marines, a few undead with bows. Getting enough of a faction to actually play a proper game was a madman’s dream. Over lockdown I have put the time, energy, and money into building 8 full armies for Kings of War when most people think 1 army is an impossibly long and arduous task. On a slow, lockdown day, I found myself on YouTube and came upon the channel “Game Sack”. The guys are funny and relatively interesting. After a few videos it autoplays their “Turbografx” console review video. It was almost completely ignored outside of Japan, but inside of Japan it outsold the Megadrive. It was a little console that came out in 1987 to rival the NES. It had an 8 bit heart, but crucially it had a 16 bit sound chip and a 16 bit graphics chip. If it were put out by Atari at the time, presumably they would have “done the math” and advertised it as a 40 bit console.

The “Turbografx” had a different look in Japan, and a different name… “PC Engine”. It was the first console to get a CD upgrade, and it had hundreds of games available on CD, so it was not considered a curious flop, like the Mega CD or 32 X were by Sega. The PC Engine was also upgradable with plug and play extra memory. This meant that this 8 bit console was perfectly capable of putting out excellent ports of Neo Geo fighting games. Something the SNES or Megadrive of the day could only dream of. More curious still, games came on Hucards (or CDs, but we covered that). Hucards were physically the size of a credit card but maybe 3 times the thickness.

The thing was put out by NEC and Hudson, and there was truly a dizzying array of different formats released, that makes collecting confusing. One of the more interesting was the handheld version, that can play the same Hucards that your PC Engine under the TV can play.

I picked up the gold standard, the PC Engine Duo RX (released in 1993). It can play both CD and Hucard games, it looks lovely but importantly the build quality is apparently the most solid on it. Lots of people online talk about “recapping” that needs to happen with some of the other models, but naturally I do not really understand what this means. If you are interested in trying out the PC Engine library, the best way is surely ROMs, you can also spend about 100 GBP to pick up the “mini” console Konami put out, they sold out very quickly but are available from some sellers on eBay for a fair price. These have many of the best titles, both on Hucard and CD.

Rather than pay 500 euros for a modern console, I paid $275 USD for my Duo RX with Castlevania. I then paid 80 dollars postage from the US. I then paid 62 Euros in customs fees. I then paid 60 euros for a second controller, 30 for a multi-tap and about 50 for an Everdrive (preloaded with hundreds of Hucard games all on 1 board that plugs into the Hucard slot). To finish of, I also dropped 60 on the memory upgrade, to complete the set. Having listened to a few retro gaming podcasts and chatting to my retro loving friend, I then dropped a further 40 (plus 30 postage) on a Bang and Olufsen CRT TV to plug it into. If you are interested in retro consoles, get yourself one of these TVs now, the price is going up all the time.

€500 for a PS5 is looking cheap right now!

So here is what I paid all that money for:

Beautiful little thing. With ugly multi-tap.

Later a 6 button controller was added, afterall, 2 buttons aren’t much help to play Street Fighter 2. This controller is actually very comfortable.

YS is one of the better known, much loved RPGs on the system.

All I can say is, when I flip that little switch, something magic happens. This little machine is something that was out of time, even in 1993. The PlayStation was 2 years out and was about the change gaming forever. Hudson and NEC were already looking to pull out of the console business, having done very well for several years, they were now on the decline. But they put out a huge array of games, more shooters than any other console, and some of the best ones too. They failed to get a single Western developer to put of games for the machine, and at the time Japanese culture was an extremely niche curio, rather than mainstream, as it is today (Attack on Titan, Pokémon, sushi).

Sitting next to my PC Engine is my consolised Neo Geo MVS. It is early days, but I would personally say I have had far more fun, thus far from my PC Engine than I have had from my Neo Geo. The Neo Geo is amazingly cool, but the games are all designed for players to coins into a slot, which motivates a quite different game design to home consoles. “Why did you spend all this money on an old console?” is a very fair question, and one I struggle to answer. It is not nostalgia, because all I can remember of the PC Engine is a few photos in old games magazines in the import sections. I was not allowed a games console anyway, so perhaps that is part of it. I am not reliving my childhood but perhaps I am trying to give the child inside of me a little slice of the childhood I wished I had.

But the PC Engine is a little slice of deep-fried gold, and perhaps my reason for getting one is as simple as that. Why did I get one? Because it is awesome.

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